Centenary blog: Inspiring chemical engineers

Centenary blog: Inspiring chemical engineers

1st November 2022

As 2022 marks IChemE’s centenary, we have been celebrating our profession and the members who have shaped it. IChemE Fellow and Deputy President Nigel Hirst chaired the centenary project’s working group who designed and implemented the ChemEng Evolution website and event programme. In this latest blog of our centenary series, Nigel reveals some of the chemical engineers who inspired our Past Presidents and shares his own views on inspiring the next generation of chemical engineers.

Nigel Hirst, Chair of Haden Freeman Group

Name: Nigel Hirst

Job title and organisation: Chair of Haden Freeman Group

IChemE role: Deputy President, Chair of the ChemEng Evolution services and platforms working group, former chair of Congress and former chair of the Global Awards judging panel.

Bio: Nigel’s background is in process design and project management having held senior positions with responsibility for plant operations in the UK and Asia. As CEO of Haden Freeman Group he was responsible for companies operating in consultancy, design and build, risk management, lean process improvement, facilities management, and manufacture of fired heaters and flare tips.

Manufacturing sectors served include chemical, environmental management, nuclear, oil and gas, and pharmaceutical.

He maintains a keen interest in the higher education sector and was a member of the Industrial Advisory Board of a large UK university's chemical engineering department, He has also been a trustee of several charities in the fields of music, education and social mobility.

Throughout this centenary year, IChemE members have been sharing their own personal accounts on chemical engineering and we have been selecting elements to celebrate, communicate and inspire. This month we are focusing particularly on ‘inspire’ and I wanted to share my thoughts on some inspirational chemical engineers.

When we consider the chemical engineering options we took and the career paths we have chosen, I’m sure we all have chemical engineers who inspired us to make those choices, some who may have shaped our careers or some who we hold up as role models.

As part of the centenary project, we asked IChemE’s Past Presidents to identify the chemical engineer who inspired them the most and to explain why so that we could pass that inspiration on to others. You can find all of them here, but here are some of my favourites.

It’s apt that Past President Ken Rivers, himself an expert on process safety, nominated Trevor Kletz who is often referred to as the father of process safety. Ken’s first meeting with Trevor exposed him to the array of potentialities for disaster followed by how that potential chaos could be converted into an orderly and structured management of the risks.

Nominated by Past President Julia Higgins, Margaret Hutchinson Rosseau was an early example of the many unsung chemical engineers to whom we are indebted. Margaret was the first woman to gain a PhD in chemical engineering in the US and went on to develop the large-scale production of penicillin. Julia only found out about this pioneering woman relatively recently but noted how Margaret epitomises a key quality of the chemical engineering profession - innovation and thinking outside the box.

Chemical engineering is clearly in the genes of the Scott household, as Past President Russell Scott nominated his father, Reginald Scott, who inspired Russell with his work on new build and existing operating chemical plants in Australia. The genes are obviously strong as Russell’s son is also enjoying a career as a chemical engineer and is a Fellow of IChemE, and his grandson has also chosen to pursue a career as a chemical engineer.

An individual giant in academia and an entrepreneurial giant in the health sector, Professor Robert Langer, was nominated by Past President Ian Shott. Ian’s own experience allowed him to calibrate the enormity of Bob Langer’s capability and of his amazing achievements which make him a truly iconic role model and a giant in the world of chemical engineering.

Past President Ramesh Mashelkar nominated one of his teachers from his undergraduate studies at the University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT) in Mumbai, India. Professor Man Mohan Sharma inspired Ramesh due to his unusual combination of both microscopic and telescopic vision, his prowess of combining excellence with relevance and his incredible values.

I nominated Roger Kingsley who, appropriately, was born in the year that IChemE was founded. Roger was the most exceptional practising chemical engineer I ever met, and the most extraordinary human being. I joined Lankro Chemicals in 1978 and met Roger shortly afterwards. My definition of genius is ‘someone who listens, and then asks you the one question you can’t answer’. Roger not only personified this, but he would also readily tell you from memory on which page of Perry’s Chemical Engineering Handbook to look for the answer!

These are just a few of the very many inspirational chemical engineers that have crossed my path. However, I would also like to nominate all of IChemE’s volunteers. When we put a call out to ask if any members would like to get involved with the centenary project, we were overwhelmed with the response – over 80 volunteers came forward and helped us shape the centenary project into ChemEng Evolution as it has become.

Of course, the volunteers involved with ChemEng Evolution are just some of the army of volunteers that are involved in delivering IChemE’s objectives. Volunteering is at the heart of IChemE. The ability to deliver such a bold undertaking as advancing chemical engineering for the benefit of society relies heavily on our community of volunteers who fulfil many functions across IChemE. These volunteers are inspirational to many members and colleagues and on behalf of the Trustees and all our members, I would like to thank each and every one of you.

If IChemE is to achieve its goals of advancing chemical engineering, maintaining high qualification standards and contributing to the UN SDGs, we will need future generations of chemical engineers to get us there. So. I would ask you all to think about whether you can be the role model for the future chemical engineers and be the role model you needed when you were younger.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you’d like to find out more, visit the Past President’s Inspirational Chemical Engineers section of the ChemEng Evolution website to find out which other chemical engineers were nominated.

For more information on IChemE's centenary, visit www.chemengevolution.org or follow #ChemEngEvolution on social media.